You will notice that the doctors at Noah’s Ark Veterinary Office are starting to recommend more diagnostic tests when your pets are senior citizens, when they are on chronic medication, and some annual exams. It is understandable why a lot of people are questioning our motives, since this was not common practice before. In this blog I would like to cover the following: 1. What are diagnostics? What pets do we recommend regular diagnostics for? What are we looking for? Why should I choose to run these tests on my pet? What happens if I cannot perform these diagnostics?
What Are Diagnostics?
Diagnostic is an umbrella term for tests run to try and determine if a living being is truly healthy. Veterinarians are unable to talk to their patients, so we rely on these diagnostics to try and narrow down a cause for clinical signs. We also use these tests for an animal to “talk” to us when they appear healthy at home but might be feeling just a little off and don’t know how to tell us. More often then not we will find abnormalities on diagnostics prior to an animal showing clinical signs at home.
Which Pets Need Regular Diagnostics?
Annual screening for all animals
4dx (Dogs only). This test looks for heartworm disease and three common tick-borne diseases common to this area.
Triple snap (Cats only). This test looks for heartworm disease, Feline Leukemia, and FIV. We recommend this annually even in indoor cats as we are picking up more heartworm disease in cats due to increased screening.
Fecal testing. There are intestinal parasites that are zoonotic (can be given to humans). CDC recommend annual screening on all our pets or if a dog/cat has diarrhea
The young and healthy animal
We recommend lab tests on animals prior to any surgery. This is to make sure their organs can tolerate the anesthesia/medication well and verify there isn’t anything additional we need to do during the procedure (longer course of fluids, keep in the hospital longer, send to a 24-hour care facility for closer monitoring, etc.).
3-year-old lab work. We recommend a lab panel at 3 years old to have a “healthy normal” for your pet. We have reference ranges from labs; however, these include chihuahuas to Great Danes and your pets “normal” may be a little different from these ranges. This allows the veterinarian to trend your animals’ blood changes.
We will often give an owner the option for annual lab work in case you are wanting to continue monitoring these values annually. This is not required and is a personal preference.
The senior animal (7 years or older)
Annual lab work is strongly recommended for these patients. The majority of the time veterinarians will find something off with lab work screening and be able to make changes to help decrease risk for serious disease and an expensive ER bill. Although this is not always the case, this is our goal. We want to keep your pet as healthy as possible and help decrease your risk for an unexpected expense.
Annual chest x-rays are recommended for these patients. There is a risk we find a lung tumor or changes with the heart we can pick up on before clinical signs are noted. This will increase the probability of being able to help with animal with medical intervention.
Pets on chronic medication
Depending on your pet’s age and medication we will recommend diagnostics (lab work, blood pressures, drug level testing, etc) every 6 moths to annually. Medications have side effects. We want to make sure your pet is tolerating their medications and alterations are not needed. There have been several cases of improving both quality and quantity of life due to regular screening and catching problems with dosing prior to the animal showing clinical signs (are you catching onto a pattern, lol).
Pets with heart murmurs
We will discuss annual chest x-rays along with regular check-ups with the local cardiologist. Heart murmurs can be benign or serious. The benign heart murmur can turn into a serious problem at any time. Regular screening can help improve your animal’s quality of life dramatically.
What Are We Looking For?
We are screening an animal’s inside health. We are checking their cell counts and seeing if a pet is having changes with their red or white blood cells that may indicate a further problem. We are also checking an animal’s organ system (kidney, liver, pancreas) to make sure these organs are not getting injured. If we note an issue, we may be able to change an animal’s food choice, medication routine, exercise recommendations, etc. to help improve their overall health. We are also checking thyroid levels and their urine health. Chest x-rays are looking for cancer as an animal changes along with the heart size and lung structure. Medication levels in an animals blood help us determine if their dosing is too high and can cause toxicity or too low and potentially not needed.
In short, we are looking for mild changes in your animal’s overall health to help us tailor their recommendations for a longer quality and quantity of life. This allows them to be with you longer and our hope is that you will not have an emergency situation that could have otherwise been avoided.
Why Should I Choose to Run These Tests on My Pet?
If you are an owner who likes the reassurance that your pet is as healthy as possible, then we recommend annual lab screening and gold standard diagnostics based off your pets age, diseases, and/or medications. The tests we recommend give us veterinarians vital clues to tailor your pet’s health plan just to them.
What Happens if I Cannot Run Recommended Diagnostics?
We all know that not everyone has the ability or wants to run the recommended diagnostics. We do not judge, and understand everyone has different beliefs and circumstances that may prevent us from running these. We will require a signature on an Against Medical Advice (AMA) form for certain patients. This is in no way trying to make an owner feel bad. Unfortunately, in today’s day and world us veterinarians have to protect our license, as we cannot afford to pay our student loans without it. The AMA form does just that. It is a written document that shows we went over potential side effects with you and states that we recommend screening diagnostics. We are also happy to talk about payment options through Care Credit if cost is of concern.
Diagnostics are important tools for us veterinarians to talk to your pet in a different way and make sure they are as truly healthy as they seem externally. We will often catch abnormalities on these tests prior to picking up on changes in your furry family member. We can then tailor our recommendations for your pet to give them a better quality and quantity of life. Though we strongly believe these diagnostics are needed, we understand that not everyone can proceed with our recommendations. We are happy to work with you to make sure your pet is well taken care of and you are comfortable with what you are choosing to do. Please always come with your questions and concerns and we are happy to talk through those with you.